The Exorcist: Believer – A terrifying odyssey into the darkest heart of inexplicable evil

50 years since the blockbuster’s theatrical launch, The Exorcist: Believer marks a new beginning that takes audiences into the darkest heart of inexplicable evil. shocking audiences around the world. Now, a new chapter begins. From Blumhouse and director David Gordon Green, who shattered the status quo with their resurrection of the Halloween franchise, comes The Exorcist: Believer

When the novel by William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist, arrived on shelves in 1971, a spellbound populace devoured the story of shaken faith, family trauma, and demonic possession. When director William Friedkin brought the story—from an original screenplay by Blatty—to the screen in December 1973, global audiences were treated to an unimaginable fear that shook them to their core.

The film was a landmark moment in horror that changed the genre and moviegoing forever. While the 1973 film explored demonic possession from a predominantly Catholic perspective, The Exorcist: Believer incorporates multiple faiths in the fight to save two young girls. That horrifying event will force the solitary Victor to rely on other people for support and guidance and will ultimately lead him toward fabled exorcism survivor Chris MacNeil.

Producer Jason Blum talks about The Exorcist: Believer

(from left) Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr.) in The Exorcist: Believer, directed by David Gordon Green.

Since the death of his pregnant wife in a Haitian earthquake 13 years ago, Victor Fielding (Leslie Odom, Jr) has raised their daughter, Angela (Lidya Jewett) on his own. But when Angela and her friend Katherine (Olivia O’neill), disappear in the woods, only to return three days later with no memory of what happened to them, it unleashes a chain of events that will force Victor to confront the nadir of evil and, in his terror and desperation, seek out the only person alive who has witnessed anything like it before: Chris MacNeil.

The rite of exorcism is one of the oldest human rituals. Every culture, in every country for as far back as history has been recorded, has a ceremony to dispel negative energies and journey toward healing. From the Muslim rites, to Jewish dybbuks and Zoroastrian texts. Why there’s even several exorcism incantations in the Dead Sea Scrolls.” – Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist: Believer

From Page To Screen

Director David Gordon Green, working first with Scott Teems and Danny McBride to develop the screen story and then with screenwriter Peter Sattler on the script, shaped the story of Victor Fielding, a grieving photographer who had lost his wife in a Haitian earthquake years earlier. Just as he and his daughter Angela start to move on, a demonic presence worms its way into their family—possessing Angela and her best friend.

“The film explores themes about unity and how people overcome hardships with community,” Green says. “Demonic possession is a way that people can explore ideas of more relatable types of possession: internal struggles that we all have. It’s a subgenre of horror that I’m drawn to because it explores those questions of, ‘Who am I? Who’s within me? Are there things within me that my community might see as questionable? And, if so, can they pull something out of me through relationships, love, intervention?’ All of these ideas I find really intriguing.”

Much like the approach Green and Blumhouse took with the Halloween franchise, The Exorcist: Believer views only the 1973 film as canon. Although 1973’s The Exorcist had sequels over the proceeding decades, from the viewpoint of this movie’s narrative, the other films did not occur. “As with our 2018 version of Halloween, there are a generation of fans who may not be familiar with the original film of The Exorcist,” Blum says. “The Exorcist: Believer is a contemporary take that is a snapshot of our times: A single father faced with raising a teenage daughter on his own and embracing a community to help, that frankly, he didn’t think that he would ever need to rely on. This story brings together the characters and elements of the original that are so beloved by horror fans.”

Director David Gordon Green on the set of The Exorcist: Believer.

For Green, the film also allowed him to investigate and contemplate a long-held interest. “I’ve grown up with a fascination of religions of all sorts,” Green says. “When I see a movie that has a religious theme, I’ll often read more about it, or research it.” Although the 1973 film relied primarily on a Catholic interpretation of possession, The Exorcist: Believer examines it from the perspective of multiple faiths. “This was an opportunity to take a lot of different perspectives of possession and explore it through a variety of characters and their perspectives of religion,” Green says. Dramatically and emotionally, however, Green wanted to keep the focus on how these inexplicable events affect the people at the center of the story. “I’m always looking at dramatic roots, and for relatable characters,” Green says. “I’m looking for situations on Earth that I can identify with. In this film we do explore the spectacular, but we’re always trying to keep one hand grounded on how these events might be explained and understood.”

The result is a film, Blum says, that is “riveting, dramatic, dark and horrifying.” For Green, it proved to be a filmmaking experience unlike any other. “The true rollercoaster of this production was being able to find joy in darkness, find the community in loneliness, and find a movie that has a human quality ingrained in the experience of making it that audiences, hopefully, can appreciate when they see the film,” Green says.

“The original Exorcist film was groundbreaking for its time, and we wanted to honor the film with this continuation,” producer Jason Blum says. “It’s been 50 years, and thousands of horror films have been released since The Exorcist, so, for us, it was about trying to go back to an unsettling and original story. It was about trying to convey the horror that a parent can feel when their world, their only child, is threatened, and trying to come to terms with how your beliefs might have to evolve when you are guiding someone through this unusual world.”

While the 1973 film explored demonic possession from a predominantly Catholic perspective, The Exorcist: Believer incorporates multiple faiths in the fight to save two young girls.

The Exorcist: Believer director David Gordon Green says: “The film deals with the vulnerability of parenthood when you have a child with an unexplainable illness.

“How you approach a crisis like that is shaped by your own belief system: whether you’re a family that’s devout Baptist or a family that doesn’t believe in God, or a family that’s looking to the medical world, either with great hope or with great suspicion. The film engages in that conversation about science and spirituality.”  

Green knew early in the story-development process that he wanted this film to incorporate multiple faith and non-faith perspectives

“Growing up, I was a kid that went to church every Sunday, but I was also that annoying kid that would ask questions and challenge the institution a little and wonder what was beyond,” Green says. “As I grew up, I was exposed to more cultures, and various religious perspectives, and became close friends with people who believed very differently than I was taught to believe. So, my research for the film began as naive curiosity, wondering about various religious perspectives on possession and various rituals and ceremonies that paralleled the demonic universe that we were exploring. In that process, I had a chance to talk to academics and faith leaders of all sorts and they would often recommend books for me to read.”

Much of that research landed on the screen in various forms, and spiritual experts from every faith referenced in The Exorcist: Believer were hired to consult with the filmmakers and the actors. In the film, the mission to save Angela and Katherine includes four primary community faith leaders: Catholic priest Father Maddox (E.J. Bonilla), Victor’s friend Stuart, a Pentecostal preacher (Danny McCarthy), Doctor Beehibe, a root doctor (Okwui Okpokwasili) and Pastor Don Revans, a Baptist preacher (Raphael Sbarge).

As the production’s Spiritual Coordinator Carla Duren ensured the spiritual safety of the cast and crew—including their mental and emotional wellbeing. The rituals around exorcism and demonology are varied, fascinating and often mysterious.